POLICIES AND PREDICAMENTS

by Mary De Paor

The UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, published in 2006 and promptly signed by Ireland the following year, has still not been ratified by Ireland. Partly that is because of the long delays in passing into law the Assisted Decision-making (Capacity) Bill 2013.That bill has been ‘in the pipeline’ since it was first proposed in 2008 by the Minister for Justice (then Dermot Ahern). Unfortunately our legislators have been convulsed by other (aqueous) pipelines recently, and the Bill remains at committee stage, with no apparent prospect of advancement during the current Dáil term.

In the last twenty-five years, many hefty tomes of policy documents have been published in the arena of intellectual disabilities in Ireland—from Needs and abilities (1990), A strategy for equality (1996) to A time to move on from congregated settings (2011) and New directions (2012).

The UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, published in 2006 and promptly signed by Ireland the following year, has still not been ratified by Ireland. Partly that is because of the long delays in passing into law the Assisted Decision-making (Capacity) Bill 2013.That bill has been ‘in the pipeline’ since it was first proposed in 2008 by the Minister for Justice (then Dermot Ahern). Unfortunately our legislators have been convulsed by other (aqueous) pipelines recently, and the Bill remains at committee stage, with no apparent prospect of advancement during the current Dáil term.  We in the intellectual disability community are crying out for our people to shed the labels of the Lunacy Act 1871—and, nearly 150 years later, to be given the legal status to participate as fully as possible in Irish life. Real Irish life.

Moving ahead: Mapping the national disability policy landscape (Linehan et al, 2014) provides a summary of the ‘six high-level policy documents [that] have been published which propose radical reform of the disability sector …. This raft of policy is complimented [sic] by other publications emanating from semi-state bodies such as the National Economic and Social Council and the Economic and Social Research Institute. The sheer quantum of policy reflects a prioritisation of reform within the disability sector by Government’ (p.12).

Accompanying policies, we also have strategies. In 2011, The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government published a National housing strategy for people with a disability 2011-2016, the ‘vision’ of which was ‘to facilitate access, for people with disabilities, to the appropriate range of housing and related support services, delivered in an integrated and sustainable manner, which promotes equality of opportunity, individual choice and independent living’ (p.7).

The National implementation framework for the housing strategy was published in July 2012, and the First report on implementation, September 2012 – December 2013 said that Housing Subgroup was providing ‘a suite of guidance tools … to assist housing authorities in implementing the Strategy at local level in order to meet the housing needs of people with disabilities living in the community and transitioning from institutional care.’ This included ‘an interim protocol in relation to the provision of housing supports for people with disabilities,’ adopted for implementation by local authorities in May 2013. An Easy to Read version of the Strategy was also published (in 2013) to help people with intellectual disabilities to access information on housing options. There was also a ‘scoping paper’ in relation to the establishment of a number of pilot Housing Advice Centres to provide an integrated approach to the provision of information for people with disabilities on their housing and related support needs. The Strategy was a ‘priority action under the Government’s National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan’, and a ‘housing thematic meeting was held by the NDS Implementation Group in December 2013 which provided a wider range of stakeholders with an opportunity to input into future policy.’

The implementation progress report included financial considerations. Some sums had been ‘ring fenced’ by the Departments of Health and Environment for a pilot programme of deinstitutionalisation following the congregated settings report. However, the report stated: ‘It is recognised that there is no dedicated funding stream to support the personal support needs of people living in communities who wish to pursue a social housing option. This issue will be examined in the context of work to be undertaken by the Housing Subgroup in 2014 in respect of tenancy sustainment services and costs to facilitate independent living in line with the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.’

Another future-tense policy statement was that ‘the DECLG will continue to explore mechanisms to increase the supply of social housing for people with disabilities, including through engagement with NAMA on the delivery of units which may be suitable and opportunities arising in the context of additional investment in local authority housing in 2014 through construction and investment to bring long term vacant units back into social use.’

Most recently, we have the Social Housing Strategy 2020 (November 2014), which incorporates (in ‘Box 3’, p.16) the disability strategy. If you print out the document you can monitor the delivery of 37 social housing strategy actions in five ‘work streams’, over the five years of the strategy implementation. The actions include familiar terms: ‘agree targets’, ‘commence legislation’, ‘strengthen’, ‘carry out an internal review’, ‘carry out detailed analysis’, ‘consider the development of’ …

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Ireland is very good at devising impressive policies. A quick search on Google shows many more like those above. Canny Frontline readers-between-the-lines may have guessed that this author is a policy-cynic! We talk the talk, but …

Recently, I attended a meeting at an ID support service where parents voiced raw concern for their family member’s support needs, and for a place to live independently. Despite very innovative thinking within services, the 20% reduction in their funding over the past five years has inevitably led to staffing reductions and programme retrenchments. It can seem a very gloomy world.

But, we need to focus on the positive. Never mind the policies—they only lead to disillusionment and frustration. It is more important for families to learn more about the real ‘system’, its possibilities and limitations. They can find advice from the Citizen’s Information Board, or training from Inclusion Ireland, Pathways for Possibilities or Leap. (online editor: can you put website links here please?). Collaboration is vital—with their family member’s disability service and with other families (see Avril Webster’s article in Frontline (Autumn 2013, 92, p.7).

People with disabilities have been ‘mainstreamed’ by the policy world—it has been beneficial in some ways, but also costly. National resources are limited. We in the world of intellectual disability must accept that others in our society also have ‘special needs’. We can only fight for an equitable share, by strongly advocating for the valid and demonstrable support requirements of our people. And we need to add our own resourcefulness to the equation as well.

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